A variety of new papers suggest that cancer patients who report more religiousness or spirituality may also experience fewer physical symptoms of cancer and treatment and more social connection.
A recent analysis reviewed previous studies of spirituality involving more than 44,000 cancer patients in total. The studies varied, however, overall religion and spirituality were associated with better health regardless of specific religion or set of spiritual beliefs.
The studies included more than 32, 000adult cancer patients with a range of cancer types and stages.
Previous research also found this connection, however other research did not.
Although data suggests that patients with greater religion or spirituality tend to have better perceived physical health, patients should not be pressured into adopting religious or spiritual beliefs. Patients who are not religious or spiritual can also experience good health outcomes.
These studies relied on patients self-reporting, therefore they did not address objective cancer outcomes.
According to a number of patient reports, a sense of connection to a being larger than oneself was associated with better physical function and fewer or less severe, symptoms of cancer or treatment.
Intrinsic religious belief was also found to be tied to better physical function.
On the other hand, actual practice of religion, like church attendance, prayer, or meditation, was not related to physical health.
Some researchers believe that religious people may engage in more healthy behaviors such as avoiding things like alcohol or drugs, and religious communities may provide social support, transportation to appointments, provision of meals and other basic needs.
However more research is necessary, at the moment it is not possible to definitively say that religions/spirituality causes better perceived health.